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Sandra Cisneros: 1954—: Writer

Escaped Shame Through Books

The invariable movement—pulling up roots, packing boxes, new schools, new beds—took a toll on Cisneros.

At a Glance . . .

Born December 20, 1954 in Chicago, IL; daughter of an upholster and a homemaker, both of Mexican descent; six brothers. Education: Loyola University, Chicago, BA, 1976; University of Iowa, MFA, 1978. Religion: Catholic.

Career: Writer. Guest professor, California State University, Chico, 1987-88, University of California, Berkeley, 1988, University of California, Irvine, 1990, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1990, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1991; Literary Director, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, TX, 1984-85; Artist in Residence, Foundation Michael Karolyi, Vence, France, 1983; College Recruiter and Counselor, Loyola University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 1981-82; Teacher, Latino Youth Alternative High School, Chicago IL, 1978-80.

Memberships: PEN; Mujeres por la paz (a women's peace group).

Awards: MacArthur Genius Award, 1995; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1982, 1988; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation,1985; Paisano Doble Fellowship, 1986; First and second prize in Segundo Concurso Nacional del Cuento Chicano, Lannan Foundation Literary Award, University of Arizona, 1991; Honorary Doctorate of Literature, State University of New York at Purchase, 1993.

Addresses: Home—San Antonio, TX.

She became shy and self-conscious. Already the odd one out as the only sister in a house of brothers, Cisneros found she fit nowhere. So she retreated into books and stories. One of her favorites was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, a picture book about a little house on a little hill, "where one family lived and grew old and didn't move away," Cisneros wrote in "Ghosts." It was a fantasy that she could never imagine for her own life. Instead, in 1966 her parents scraped together the money for a down payment on a small red bungalow. It sat on a broken down street in a poverty scarred Puerto Rican neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. It was a house Cisneros was ashamed of.

Though Cisneros attended Catholic schools, the education she received was less than ideal. In an interview for the anthology Authors and Artists for Young Adults, she said, "If I had lived up to my teachers' expectations, I'd still be working in a factory." Fortunately Cisneros's parents were firm believers in education, knowing that it was the only way their children could break the bonds of poverty. Library cards were mandatory in the family and Cisneros, without sisters to play with, too shy to make new friends, lost herself in the library's riches. Though she wrote a few poems as a child and served as the editor on her high school's literary magazine, it would not be until graduate school that Cisneros would finally become a writer.

Following high school, Cisneros enrolled in Loyola University, Chicago to pursue a degree in English. In her household, gender stereotypes were strongly upheld. She told Publishers Weekly that her "seven fathers," meaning her father and six brothers, expected her to conform to appropriate women's roles. She was to be a caretaker, get married, have children—to be like the other women who "lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain," as the child narrator Esperanza described in The House on Mango Street. "In retrospect, I'm lucky my father believed daughters were meant for husbands. It meant it didn't matter if I majored in something silly like English," Cisneros later told Glamour.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) BiographySandra Cisneros: 1954—: Writer Biography - Escaped Shame Through Books, Found Her Voice In Her Past, Earned Literary Acclaim And Fame